Antarctic Peninsula – Portal Point –Charlotte Bay

Antarctic Peninsula – Portal Point –Charlotte Bay

Portal Point, Graham Land, Continental Landing.

Lat: 64° 30’ S, Long: 61° 39’ W

Wind: 5 Knt NW, Temp: 0° C (8 AM)

Our ship was at anchor this morning when we reached Charlotte Bay.  Portal Point, our afternoon destination, is located on the northeastern part of the Reclus Peninsula, which extends along the western coast of Graham Land (the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula) from the Peninsula to Charlotte Bay.  Portal Point has served as a sort of gateway for a route to the Peninsula plateau, and we can see the snowy slopes on shore that will rise steeply up toward that plateau.  Everywhere we look today we see jagged snow-covered mountains and nunataks (the peaks of mountains just visible above the ice and snow.  There are ice cliffs that come right down to the sea, sometimes part of glacial tongues that flow to sea level.  I can see a lot of crevasses, which expose blue ice and look deep and dangerous, although beautiful.

Charlotte Bay has lots of icebergs and as an added bonus this afternoon we were treated to seeing Humpback whales…gently swimming near the ship, gracefully coming out of the water and exposing their back fin and tail in the process.  So peaceful!  I don’t have the best photos, but here are a couple.

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Some facts on whales:

** right now we have whales in our area because there is an abundance of krill; big swarms which are a delicious meal for many kinds of whales

** there are two suborders of whales…toothed whales and baleen whales

** toothed whales include:  Killer (Orca) whales, Sperm whales

** baleen whales include Minke (the smallest in this area), Blue (the largest), Fin (the fastest, and are slender and streamlined), Bowhead, Right, Grey, and Humpback whales

** no whale is exclusively Antarctic

** whales evolved from terrestrial (land) ancestors more than 50 million years ago

** whales are the dominant group of marine mammals in terms of ecological diversity and geographic range

Comparing baleen and toothed whales:

Baleen whales have two blowholes, baleen plates (to filter food), a symmetrical skull and facial tissue, they are always large, and females tend to be a bit larger than males. They have 2 jawbones that are NOT locked, which permits them to have independent rotation.

Toothed whales have one blowhole, teeth, an asymmetrical skill and facial tissue, are of variable size, and their 2 jawbones lock together.

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Krill…

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And here is an illustration of a Southern Ocean food chain that I used in a recent presentation for Polar Educators International.  You can find lots of resources at:  www.polareducator.org

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(Thanks to Jess Melbourne-Thomas, Homeward Bound and Australian Antarctic Division)

During our afternoon briefing Fabian announced that it was Greg’s (our expedition leader) birthday.  He has done an amazing job (along with Monika, who works for Antarpply) at arranging our landings every day.  So many details have to be in place every time we take the zodiacs and go to shore.  Do we have permission, is the sea too rough, is the landing spot safe, how’s the weather looking?  Greg and others from the ship go on the first zodiac and help each and every one of us get out on land/beach/rock.  It’s tricky, and they are standing in water that is cold and can sometimes be as deep as their upper thighs.  Yesterday they battled some pretty strong waves to get us on land, and Greg is always the calmest person around.  His expertise is really appreciated by everyone on the Homeward Bound voyage.

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Today’s landing was later in the day, about 3:00 pm.  Zodiacs wound their way through the icebergs and gently landed on some beautiful flat slabs of rock at Portal Point.  The group hiked up on the snow to gain an opportunity for spectacular views.  Actually it didn’t matter which way you looked today, it was truly awesome!

Out landing point…

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My view from the hill…beautiful.

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We were not alone on land today!  A crabeater seal was nearby on an ice floe, and two Weddell seals were lounging on the snow and ice.  They were quite aware of our presence, and lifted their heads now and then to check us out.  One of the Weddell seals actually moved away from our group a bit…which looks very laborious as it wiggled its body and kind of flopped its way on the snow.

Here’s the Weddell seal at rest…with a wary eye on everyone hiking by.

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As I carefully chose my steps up a steep snowy trail, I paused a lot to take in this spectacular place.  It almost doesn’t look real.  A 360-degree view of this land and seascape…a stark reminder of how isolated Antarctica truly is.  Not another ship in sight, and we had these moments and this place all to ourselves.  Well, sort of…skuas and a few stray Gentoo penguins were joining the party today!

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After I reached a high point on the trail, I sat down to just take this all in.  I was a bit concerned about getting down the trail…sinking in snow up to my knees.  In the end I just decided to slide down the hill… which was a lot of FUN and a whole lot quicker than trying to hike down.  Turns out that’s the method most of us chose to come down.

Everyone stopped to get photos with their university or organization’s flag/banner.  Of course I was prepared…Go Illini (The University of Illinois).

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Tomorrow we switch rooms and roommates on the ship.  Denise will be my new roomie!  We are still on a lower level of the ship…which actually I do not mind, since the rolling of the ship is less dramatic when you’re down on lower levels.  I can’t believe we had to pack up tonight though…for the big move early tomorrow.

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An hour or so had passed by WAY too quickly, and it was time to climb back into the zodiac for a tour through the icebergs.

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Renate, Melissa, Carol, and Denise…the other side of our zodiac!

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We passed the ice floe with the crabeater seal on it…as we left Portal Point.

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This seal looked so lonely…sad, sad eyes!  Despite their name, crabeater seals do not eat crab.  In fact, they prey upon the Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean.  This seal has a unique sieve-like tooth structure that filters the tiny krill.  The crabeater is medium to large-sized, usually over 2 meters in length.  It is more slender than the Weddell seals and also lighter in color.  They can usually be found on the free-floating ice (penty of that around here!) which they use as a platform for resting, getting to prey, and mating.  All of the seals are easy to spot on the ice floes or ice on land due to their darker color, but when they are on shore or near rocks they really blend into the environment.  The crabeater seal is one of the most abundant species of seals in the world.

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I took dozens of photos of the icebergs…and here are a couple favorites!

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Isn’t the blue in the iceberg below just gorgeous?!  Icebergs can appear blue (and sometimes green) due to light refraction and age.  Older icebergs can display vivid shades of green and blue, which results from a high concentration of color, ice that has compacted, and microorganisms.

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And this one reminds me of pillows…of ice!

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As our zodiac approached the ship, we got a fabulous view from below.  It’s amazing really, how slender the ship seems from this vantage point.

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Back on board, our usual afternoon snack was waiting.  Each day a whole spread of fruit, cakes, rolls, etc. are served late in the afternoon. There is no shortage of food on the Ushuaia and the staff is fabulous!

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One final photo from today…a chunk of ice taken right from the sea.  I love the textures and clarity of this giant ice cube! Here’s a favorite quote to go along with today’s fantastic field trip!  We truly were in a wild, unspoiled place with nature’s majesty surrounding us, inspiring us, and grabbing our hearts.  Have a great day, wherever you are!

“In Wildness lies the hope of the world.”  John Muir

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